Since 2010, when the Sacramento Kings selected franchise big man DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have been at or near the bottom of the Western Conference thanks to failures in the draft, free agency, and finding a capable head coach.
The Kings have had five top ten draft picks between 2011-15, and the lack of growth by their picks during this time when Cousins has turned into a top three center in this league has held back the team. What has gone wrong in Sacramento in the draft to keep the Kings near the bottom of the league?
The 2011 draft was both good and bad for the Kings. They had the 7th overall pick but traded it away (plus Beno Udrih) to move back to the 10th pick and acquire veteran swingman John Salmons, who still had three years and $25-million left on his contract. At 10th overall, the Kings took Jimmer Fredette, who is currently playing in the D-League and never made a real impact.
But things turned around for them in the 2nd round, as Sacramento first took swingman Tyler Honeycutt, a jack-of-all-trades but master of none type player with some upside. Honeycutt currently plays in Russia after struggling to make it in the NBA. The Kings’ best move was trading Jon Brockman to the Bucks for Darnell Jackson and a second rounder. The pick turned into point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas looks like a future Sixth-Man of the Year type and is arguably the best player on the Celtics roster after the Kings inexplicably traded him to the Suns in a sign-and-trade July 2014 for Alex Oriakhi(!) and a $7 million trade exception. Thomas was a consistent producer for the Kings his final year, averaging 20-plus points per game and 6-plus assists per game, so this didn’t quite make sense at the time.
The 2012 draft wasn’t much better (and you might find me saying this a lot). The Kings had the fifth overall pick; you’d think they’d hit on one of these, right? They took an athletic power forward, Thomas Robinson, who was traded four times. The Kings traded him during his rookie year — and is barely hanging on to a roster spot on the lowly Brooklyn Nets. The Kings sold their 2012 second-rounder to the Pacers, who used it to select Orlando Johnson. Johnson hasn’t made any impact in the league, but it couldn’t hurt to swing for a guy at this point in the draft, right?
Sacramento picked seventh overall in 2013 and actually made a smart selection with shooting guard Ben McLemore. McLemore is a great athlete and has made some strides for the Kings and was probably their best top 10 selection during this five-year stretch. Sacramento has shown a knack for finding talent in the second round, and the 2013 draft also brought them point guard Ray McCallum, who has shown he can be a capable backup in the NBA. McCallum was traded to the Spurs for a 2016 second-rounder. The Kings, at least, got their second round pick back in the deal.
Sacramento’s 2014 draft was slightly more disappointing. The Kings traded their second rounder to the Raptors for a rental of James Johnson, who left the next summer anyway. Their 8th overall pick turned into sharpshooting swingman Nik Stauskas, who they also traded away this past summer to the 76ers. It’s unclear if Stauskas’ defense will ever improve enough to be a valuable contributor in the NBA, but his shooting ability is elite if he’s asked to do only that.
Another top-10 pick brought Sacramento what might be the most uniquely talented defensive player in the 2015 draft in Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein has been a rotation player immediately and brought his shot blocking and defensive abilities with him to the professional level. It should be fun to watch him develop over the course of his career. Sacramento also traded away its second-round pick to help clear cap space for this past summer. They added a lot of talent this summer, but it still appears as if they’ll land in the lottery come June.
Who knows if Sacramento will ever figure the top-10 out. I guess the jury is still out on Cauley-Stein as a professional, as he might have Defensive Player of the Year upside, but the past hasn’t been too kind to Sacramento. If the Kings can see continued development from Cousins, Cauley-Stein, McLemore and one more smart lottery pick might make them a force to be reckoned with in due time. But when looking at these picks in hindsight, it’s not too pretty.